Finished (Good Friday 2015)

Note: Today, for the first time since we started holding the service nearly 10 years ago, I had to cancel the Good Friday service at our church. Even so, I wanted to share an abbreviated version of the message I had prepared for the service. So here goes…

Talk about a whirlwind week! On Sunday, Jesus had entered Jerusalem to the cheers of adulating crowds. On Monday, He had kicked merchants and moneychangers out of the temple’s court of Gentiles, upsetting the status quo which had endured at least since Herod the Great started construction five decades earlier. On Tuesday, He had skirmished verbally with both Pharisees and Sadducees, and the stuff He was saying to the people made more than a few walk away. By Wednesday, things were at a tipping point, and by Thursday evening, as the disciples gathered with Him for dinner, the tide had clearly turned: Jesus would not be King in Jerusalem. At least, not this year.

Even so, nothing could have prepared His disciples to see one of their own – Judas – leading a mob to arrest Jesus, haul Him off to face the Sanhedrin, and see to it that He was crucified by morning.

Yet, there He was, hanging on a cross. And all but one of His disciples was nowhere to be found. They had all fled from Gethsemane the night before. The young tagalong, John Mark, had even fled naked when one of the mob caught his clothes. Peter had famously denied Jesus three times. Judas Iscariot, having realized the gravity of his mistake, had committed – or was about to commit – suicide. And apparently, only John son of Zebedee, along with Jesus’ mom and a couple of other women, had found their way back in time to stand now at the foot of the cross.

As they stood there, the gruesome horror of the crucifixion was blatantly apparent. Jesus and the two thieves hung beside Him had been stripped of all their clothing. Jesus, especially, had been beaten to within an inch of His life. As people passed by, the most gracious gestures were derisive glances. Many mocked. Many more spat upon the condemned.

Roman crucifixion was deliberately designed to exact the most physical, mental, and emotional agony possible from its victims. Eventually, victims succumbed to asphyxiation, but in the meantime, they were subjected to excruciating pain, all to show the world just how powerful Rome was.

But there was something about Jesus’ crucifixion that was different. Rather than cry out in pain or anger, Jesus was mostly quiet. And when He did speak, rather than spite or malice, His words seemed characterized by grace and love.

Across the four gospels, we are told that Jesus spoke seven times from the cross. Each of these statements is significant in its own right, from “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34) to “Behold, your mother” (John 19:26-27), from “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” (Mark 15:34) to “Into your hands I commit My spirit” (Luke 23:46). The one that stands out to me today, though, is recorded only by John. In John 19:30, the only apostle who was standing at the foot of the cross recorded Jesus’ final moments like this:

When Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” Then bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.

There is quite a bit going on in this verse. A few key tidbits include:

  • Jesus fulfilled His final prophecy when He received the wine vinegar to drink. (Psalm 69:21)
  • The act of crucifixion was all about demonstrating power over someone. Victims typically suffered excruciating pain for hours – days, even – before finally dying of asphyxiation after passing out from pain and exhaustion. Yet, John notes that Jesus bowed His head. The language indicates that this was a deliberate thing; He was conscious and in control of His own faculties. And more, John states that He gave up His spirit, indicating that Jesus chose the precise moment at which He died. Ultimately, the Romans had no power over Jesus.

These are important tidbits, which I would love to develop. But the thing I want to focus on this Good Friday is simply the last thing Jesus said: “It is finished.”

In the original Greek, this statement was actually a single word, and scholars tell us that it was exceptionally common in Jesus’ day. In fact, it’s the same verb which appears in vs 28, where it is typically translated “accomplished.” In fact, according to the ESV Study Bible, that is pretty much exactly what this word meant: accomplished, finished, completed, coming to an end, or paid in full. This last definition was probably the most common usage of the word; archaeologists have found it scrawled across ancient papyrus receipts, indicating that the debt was paid, the account closed. But of course, knowing all that begs the question: what did Jesus think was finished or accomplished. To answer that question, I want to propose to you three things.

The first is that Jesus’ earthly mission was accomplished successfully. When Jesus descended from heaven to be born to the Virgin Mary, there were a number of objectives that He needed to accomplish. At the top of the list were, “live a uniquely sinless life so that I can be a suitable atonement offering for mankind;” “demonstrate godly living for all mankind to see;” “fulfill all the prophecies written in the Old Testament concerning the Messiah;” and “raise up a gaggle of disciples who will change the world.” With this final declaration, Jesus was proclaiming that all of these objectives and more had been achieved. His earthly mission was accomplished.

The second is that Jesus’ role as propitiatory sacrifice was fulfilled. What does that mean? Well, in short, it means that Jesus stepped in to take our place and receive the punishment for our sins. St. Paul, in Romans 3, puts it like this: “God presented Him as a propitiation through faith in His blood, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His restraint God passed over the sins previously committed.” The idea is that God’s righteousness and justice had to be satisfied. Someone had to pay the price demanded for our disobedience in order for the offer of grace to be extended to us. Jesus did that for us, and in so doing saved us from the consequence of our past sins, but also saved us from the power of sin in the present. In short, if we will put our faith in Jesus, we don’t have to worry about our pasts, and we don’t have to succumb to temptation in the present or future, either. Jesus’ role as propitiatory sacrifice was fulfilled.

And third, as a result of these previous two things, our old way of life is done. If Jesus showed us how to live a godly life, demonstrated his own identity as Messiah beyond all reasonable doubt by fulfilling every one of the messianic prophecies, and raised up a bunch of fishermen, tax collectors, and nobodies to change the world, then how could we not follow Him? If our sins have been forgiven, and we don’t have to sin anymore, why would we ever be content with the way things have always been? The way we have always been? Jesus came so that we could be and do something infinitely more. And when He announced, “It is finished,” He was really saying that our old way of life is done, and we now have a chance at real, abundant, eternal life (check out John 10:10).

All that to say that, if we are truly celebrating Good Friday, and if we truly embrace all that Jesus says, our lives should be dramatically changed as a result. We can’t go back to the way things used to be. We can’t continue with the status quo. Jesus died on a cross for us, and in doing so, He finished all the things we couldn’t finish for ourselves. Now, it’s time to live as though those things are really done.

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